De­fra’s strong­est team in years

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

AFTER the past few hec­tic weeks, Au­gust must come as a great re­lief for the po­lit­i­cal classes. For the rest of us, it pro­vides a mo­ment to con­sider how our new Prime Min­is­ter in­tends to look after the coun­try­side. She isn’t a coun­try­woman and her con­stituency, Maiden­head, is largely Home Coun­ties com­mut­ing subur­bia, yet her min­is­te­rial ap­point­ments to the ru­ral depart­ment, De­fra, have been as­tute and care­fully judged. An­drea Lead­som, the Sec­re­tary of State, was, of course, a po­lit­i­cally driven choice, with Mrs May keep­ing her erst­while chal­lenger oc­cu­pied with the Brexit fall­out. How­ever, the rest of the of­fice bodes well for the coun­try­side.

Although a for­mer UKIP can­di­date and res­o­lutely op­posed to our mem­ber­ship of the EU, the Min­is­ter of State, Ge­orge Eus­tice, is him­self a prac­ti­cal farmer. Raised in and now rep­re­sent­ing the far South-west, his fam­ily farm raises cat­tle and Bri­tish Lop pigs and he has gen­uine hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. As Par­lia­men­tary Un­der Sec­re­tary to Liz Truss, he won wide­spread re­spect for his at­ten­tion to de­tail and his avail­abil­ity. His pro­mo­tion was cer­tainly de­served and will pro­vide Mrs Lead­som with much-needed agri­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing, par­tic­u­larly of Bri­tain’s mar­ginal pro­duc­ers. At the Ox­ford Farm­ing Con­fer­ence back in Jan­uary, he as­sured the farm­ing com­mu­nity that their fi­nan­cial sup­port would con­tinue if we left the EU and the NFU has al­ready sig­nalled that it will be hold­ing him to his ev­ery word.

The other side of farm­ing, the pro­duc­tive arable acres of Bed­ford­shire, will also have their voice in Mr Eus­tice’s col­league, John Gar­diner, for­merly the Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords. A keen Re­mainer, he served as chief of staff of the Con­ser­va­tive Party un­der suc­ces­sive chair­men, but it was his suc­cess as deputy chair­man of the Coun­try­side Al­liance that most rec­om­mended him to Mrs May. It’s ru­moured that he’d have been hap­pier stay- ing in his Lords post, but, as an arable farmer, widely re­spected in the NFU and CLA, he was too valu­able not to be used as a front­line agri­cul­tural min­is­ter. He’s a tough and re­silient mod­erniser with lib­eral views, yet he has a healthy re­spect for tra­di­tion, rides reg­u­larly to hounds and will be a doughty de­fender of coun­try ways and coun­try peo­ple.

Although not a farmer, the third mem­ber of the ju­nior team, Dr Thérèse Cof­fey, rep­re­sents the farm­ing con­stituency of Suf­folk Coastal. Her doc­tor­ate in chem­istry re­flects a sharp mind and an abil­ity to get her head round the com­plex sci­en­tific is­sues with which De­fra has to deal. A Re­mainer, elected first in 2010, she was a skil­ful op­er­a­tor as Deputy Leader of the House of Com­mons and made few en­e­mies among her col­leagues, even those who had not them­selves been so early pro­moted.

Agromenes finds it dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber so strong a ju­nior De­fra team. All three min­is­ters have good en­vi­ron­men­tal records, are noted for their sup­port for agri­cul­ture and are tough op­er­a­tors. Mrs Lead­som would do well to give them their head and rely on their ad­vice. After all, her job is no dod­dle. The depart­ment faces some very se­ri­ous is­sues with a much de­pleted and some­what lim­ited staff. High fly­ers have not been at­tracted to De­fra, how­ever, it’s go­ing to have much of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­ple­ment­ing the Letwin ur­gent flood pro­pos­als, due to be pub­lished shortly, as well as the pro­duc­tion of its own 25-year plan for Bri­tain’s longer-term adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change. It’s at the sharp end of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, with farm­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal sup­port par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble, and it’s not up to speed on food safety, waste, and re­cy­cling. There’s much to be done and these min­is­ters can do it if only Mrs Lead­som lets them.

All three min­is­ters have good en­vi­ron­men­tal records and are tough op­er­a­tors

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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